Back to Basics: Soldering Copper

Even as press plumbing grow in popularity (i.e. Milwaukee Tools new Force Logic lineup), soldering is still the mainstream method for joining together two or more pieces of copper pipe. Soldered joints are strong, inexpensive and will last decades when done correctly. This guide walks you through each step for a successful solder joint, and as you become more comfortable soldering, you’ll be able to work pretty quickly. It’s important to know that in some areas you must be a licensed plumber to perform plumbing work so check the code in your area before starting.

Tools & Materials

Here’s what you’ll need to have at hand:

  • Copper pipe and fittings
  • Silver solder
  • Flux
  • Copper pipe brush and/or plumber’s sandcloth
  • Torch regulator- propane, acetylene or MAPP
  • Pipe cutter

Soldering Pipe

To prepare the copper pipe and fitting for soldering, use a pipe brush or sandcloth to clean the outside of the pipe and the inside of the fitting. Afterward, the pipes should be free of debris and appear shiny.

Look for burrs and try dry fitting all the connections to ensure they easily come together. If not, clean the pipes further or cut away the damaged section and start over.

After dry fitting, separate all the components and spread plumber’s flux on the outside of the pipe and inside the fitting. The flux will evaporate off during soldering and draw the solder into the joint so spread a thorough coating.

Start the torch, and set a medium flame. Heat the joint evenly for about 10-60 seconds (depending on torch type).

Touch the solder to the joint, and if it’s hot enough, the solder will melt. As the flux evaporates, capillary action pulls the solder into the joint. Do not overheat the joint. The pipe and fitting should be just hot enough to melt the solder. In this way, go around the entire joint until solder begins to pools outside the joint. Turn off the torch and allow the pipe to cool. Use a damp rag to clean away excess flux as it can corrode the pipe and cause pinhole leaks.

Wait a few minutes for the solder to fully cool before turning on the water. After water is flowing, double-check the pipe and fitting for any leaks.

If you’d like to learn more about how to join copper pipes and fittings, this video includes a master plumber demonstrating of how to solder copper pipe. It’s from the Handyman Club Video Library Archive.

Ethan Hagan Blog
Ethan Hagan is the primary editor at One Project Closer where you’ll find expert how-to guides called Pro-Follows. Each Pro-Follow is the result of shadowing real contractors on actual job sites. In addition, OPC provides coupon information for DIY centers and name brand stores like these discounts for AJ Madison. If this sounds like your kind of home improvement, I’d encourage you to check out One Project Closer.
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